January 20, 2013 by Parveer Mann
You know what; we just witnessed an increasingly rare feat in modern tennis. A matchup between two teenagers. The women’s third round match at this year’s Australian Open between 19 year old Sloane Stephens and 18 year old Laura Robson is something of oddity today. Both players have showed early promise and convincing form. They are considered the future of women’s tennis for their respective countries, an expectation that many pundits think will not be fully formed until these players are well into their 20’s.
It used to be common place to think a teenage sensation would storm onto the tennis scene and become an instant champion. We all remember the striking images of the Williams Sisters, Maria Sharapova, Martina Hingis or Chris Evert holding major trophies before they were able to vote. In today’s game, this trend does not hold true. According to an ESPN article, there were 15 teenage champions in the 1990’s, three in the 2000’s and none so far this decade. The same holds true for the men’s game where a 19 year old Rafael Nadal was the last teenage grand slam champion in 2005.
A possible reason for this striking change could have been the ATP and WTA increasing the mandatory age for a part time player on either tour to 14 and even older for someone considering full time status. It is now impossible to have a phenom like Jennifer Capriati start winning at the age of 13 and contending for grand slams at 14. Others have pointed to the increased travel and physical demands on both tours that have made teenagers competing at the highest level more difficult.
Change for the better?
I feel the steady change toward more experienced winners in both men’s and women’s tennis has been a blessing in disguise for the game. As mentioned earlier, American Jennifer Capriati was competing at a high level in her early teenage years but famously, she faced many personal demons and temptations that forced her out of the game. She did return and actually won three grand slams at the age of 26 after years of rehabilitation and maturation.
Many players are now more adequately prepared to handle the rigors of success and fame that they could not have had when they were younger. Now, is it that simple? Does success or celebrity that is delayed or achieved later in life become more sustainable than early success or celebrity? If you agree, why is it so?
For Sloane Stephens who defeated Laura Robson to advance to the fourth round, she’s currently living the teenage dream in tennis or at least until March when she turns 20!